Book Review

Fungi of Switzerland:
Vol. 5, Agarics, 3rd Part, Cortinariaceae

By J. Breitenbach and F. Kränzlin
Lucerne: Edition Mykologia, 2000. 338 pp.
ISBN 3-85604-250-4 (English version)
158 Swiss francs, plus 21 for shipping to US

There’s both good news and bad news to report. First the good—the latest of the “Swiss books" is now available and, with the current favorable exchange rate, this is a good time to buy it as well as any of the earlier volumes missing from your library. The bad news is that Josef Breitenbach, one of the co-authors of the series, passed away in autumn 1998 and regrettably will not be able to see the completion of this well received project produced by a small group of Swiss amateur mycologists.

This is the fifth volume in a series documenting the macrofungi of Switzerland. The previous four volumes cover the larger ascomycetes (Vol 1), the non-gilled fungi (jellies, polypores, chanterelles, corals, puffballs, and the like; Vol 2), the boletes and a portion of the agarics (Hygrophoraceae, Tricholomataceae, and gilled Polyporaceae; Vol 3), and another portion of the agarics (Entolomataceae, Pluteaceae, Amanitaceae, Agaricaceae, Coprinaceae, Bolbitiaceae, and Strophariaceae; Vol 4). Coverage of the agarics continues in Volume 5 with the Cortinariaceae (plus a single member of the Strophariaceae). One more volume is planned, to cover the Russulales (Russula and Lactarius). The earlier volumes all have been praised for their high quality, and the new release does nothing to detract from the series’ well deserved reputation.


The format is essentially the same as that of the earlier volumes. After translators' notes, preface by mycologist German Krieglsteiner, and the authors' foreword, the book includes an introduction and synopsis of the taxonomic arrangement, description of many of the authors' study methods, remarks about individual genera (including key literature citations), a glossary, lists of abbreviations and symbols used, abbreviations of taxonomic authors' names, and both Latin and English names for the plants that appear in the habitat descriptions. This is followed by a set of dichotomous keys to the included taxa, the floristic part, an extensive bibliography, and an index.

The keys are structured in three levels—a single entrance key leads to keys for each of the individual genera (Inocybe, Hebeloma, Alnicola, Gymnopilus, Cortinarius, Leucocortinarius, Rozites, Crepidotus, Simocybe, Phaeocollybia, Phaeogalera, and Galerina) and these (in the case of Inocybe and Cortinarius), in turn, lead to keys for the subgenera. The keys are based on a combination of macroscopic features and basic microscopic observations, such as spore and cystidia shape and dimensions. The couplets are all very short which leads me to believe they would not be as effective as desired in many cases. However, this matters relatively little to me as I seldom have used the keys in the other volumes, instead going straight to the descriptions after doing my keying elsewhere. It could be of more concern to others.

The floristic part represents the main body of the book, and it will look familiar to users of the previous volumes. Species descriptions are arranged three per 2-page spread, one above another. On the left-hand page is the fungus’s name, including author, a short list of synonyms, a symbol denoting edibility, and the text description. Each description includes information about habitat; macroscopic features of the pileus, flesh, lamellae, and stipe; microscopic features; taxonomic remarks such as how to distinguish similar species; and source and date of the collection. On the right-hand page are clear line drawings of microscopic features including spores, basidia, cystidia, and pileipellis and a high-quality color photograph, usually taken in situ so that visual information about habitat is conveyed. One difference from Volume 4 is that there are no spore print color swatches this time. In the introduction to the keys, Kränzlin claims that spore color is not useful for separating genera within the Cortinariaceae. I don’t agree—to me for instance, the spore color of most inocybes looks noticeably different from that of most corts. And even if it wasn’t useful within the family, it still might be handy to have some representative colors shown to help distinguish these genera from others with generally brown spores.

Although the geographic area of Switzerland is small, over 2200 species have been described so far in the five volumes. Of the 435 species in Volume 5, 148 (34%) also occur in North America, according to the distribution information in the habitat descriptions. I noted an additional 23 North American species that they overlooked which raises the totals to 171 and 39%. The percent of species overlap in the six larger genera is 39% in Inocybe, 23% in Hebeloma, 36% in Alnicola, 50% in Gymnopilus, 35% in Cortinarius, and 67% in Galerina. Given the rather poor degree to which these genera have been studied in the Northern Hemisphere, it wouldn’t surprise me to find that many more of the species in the book occur here as well. Even if I’m wrong about that, the book is sure to be of more use here in North America, especially in the northern US and southern Canada, than its title suggests.

Of the previous four volumes, I have used Volume 1 (ascomycetes) more extensively than the others. I suspect that number five will rank right up there with number one as it provides the first extensive, well illustrated, and reasonably priced compilation of corts, inocybes, and hebelomas to be available to us. Certainly there are other compilations out there -- notably Moser and Jülich’s Farbatlas and the two multi-part Cortinarius atlases by Brandrud et al and the French group including Bidaud and Moenne-Loccoz—but all of them are multi-part series, each bearing a total price tag between $500 and $2000.

In summary, this is a well produced book that is highly informative, aesthetically pleasing, and useful for, as well as usable by, amateurs and professionals alike. At nearly $100 it isn't cheap, (although it’s $40 less than Volume 4 upon release because of favorable (for us) exchange-rate changes), however, its high quality and value make it worth the price. If you harbor any crazy notions of trying to put names on those Inocybe sp’s and Cortinarius sp’s that we find so often, buying this book would be a good place to start. Heck, if enough people do it, perhaps someday putting a name on a cort won’t seem like such a crazy notion!

— Review by Steve Trudell, Seattle, WA
— Originally published in The Mycophile 42:3, 2001